New York’s Changing Neighborhood Names

The name DUMBO conjures up beautiful waterfront views and prime real estate prices for many New Yorkers. Still, historians say the acronym, for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, was coined by local artists to emphasize the area’s industrial vibe and ward off developers.

Nearby Brooklyn, the hip neighborhoods of Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill were once simply considered South Brooklyn until the late 1950s and 1960s, when groups of residents consisting largely of young white-collar workers renamed them with names intended to recall the colonial roots of the region.

In recent months, New Yorkers have risen up against a TikTok trend that has ditched the definitive article from historic neighborhoods like the West Village — though experts say it’s anyone’s guess whether that practice remains.

“If you live on the Lower East Side, and you call it the Lower East Side, and the majority of people who live there and spend time there and own businesses there continue to call it the Lower East Side , so I don’t think there will be a change,” said Anna Klenkar, real estate agent and housing expert.

People have renamed neighborhoods in New York since the city has existed. While most people equate this practice with a greed-driven top-down approach of developers looking to maximize profits in an area, it’s also a way for communities to come together to claim where they call home.

Historians like Lilly Tuttle, curator at the Museum of the City of New York, point to SoHo as a classic example of the latter. In the mid-20th century, the area was largely industrial and known as the Cast Iron District. Its streets were lined with manufacturers, wholesalers, warehouses and the like.

It was planned to raze the area to make way for a 10-lane highway, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, connecting Long Island to New Jersey.

But locals, led by town planner and author Chester Rapkin, have organized to give the area a boost by changing its name, not only giving it a geographical identity but also linking it to the trendy West End. from London of the same name.

“Legend has it late one night [he] was talking with people about how they were going to save Soho and what was going to be kind of the future of this neighborhood,” Tuttle said. “And he got the idea from SoHo – the area south of Houston.”

The move at the time was a gamble, she said. Residents weren’t sure if renaming the neighborhood would turn an area that had been delisted into a nice place to live.

“The idea that this would actually be one of New York’s most valuable pieces of real estate, once it was called SoHo, wasn’t something that anyone really planned,” he said. she declared.

It was around this time that other neighborhoods were testing this same strategy – using new names to revitalize and rename an area.

During the 1950s and 1960s in Brooklyn, organizations made up of artists, lawyers, and bankers who began settling in the area in the mid-20th century tried to keep people in New York by promoting fashion. life of the brown stone.

“The very idea that Brownstone Brooklyn would be a place that would take off financially and become a very desirable place to live and raise a family was actually somewhat new in the 1960s,” Tuttle said.

Neighborhood associations have gone to the history books and found colonial-era names linked to the area like Carroll, Boerum and Cobble Hill, and used them to give them a “rustic” and historic vibe, a she declared.

The practice commonly known today as the Developer Profit Driven Program was born out of a bottom-up approach.

“What you see today is that developers and planners are sort of catching up with a process that started over 50 years ago when the city was really struggling and losing a big population numbers to the benefit of the suburbs,” Tuttle said.

But this strategy does not always work. What makes a name stick?

Experts point to a number of factors: the name must stick out of the language or sound catchy and, perhaps most importantly, the name must have meaning for the region.

And they said New Yorkers would back off if a new name seemed obviously led by the real estate market.

“When things come from real estate agents, it’s going to become […] hung around a lot more because they’ll be like, ‘Oh, the agents are just trying to make that name happen so they can charge more for a neighborhood,’ Klenkar said.

This is why attempts to call areas like South of Harlem, SoHa or Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea North or Mid-West don’t tend to work.

“New Yorkers are cynical and skeptical people,” Tuttle said. “If it doesn’t feel organic, and I don’t feel like I’m naming something that feels, you know, right or real, I don’t know if it’s going to stick.”

When NoLIta – north of Little Italy – started gaining traction in the mid-1990s to early 2000s, locals were quick to correct people who used the new term.

“People [were] suddenly come and say, “Where’s NoLIta?” and I’m like, ‘No, there’s no NoLIta. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Eddie Panta, who has lived in the neighborhood since the 1990s.

At the time, real estate marketers sought to carve up the area, bordered by Houston STREET?, the Bowery, Broome Street and Lafayette Street, away from its immigrant past tied to Little Italy, an urban enclave for some of the first Italian residents of the country. and known for its slum conditions dating back to the late 19th century.

“For the people who lived here, NoLIta was really a term of gentrification,” Panta said. “I didn’t think it would stick. I immediately understood what it was. »

Residents like Panta still refuse to use the term NoLIta and say they’ve seen signs in shops or restaurants, with the term dwindling over the years.

Whether it’s a new name or a fundamentally changed existing name, as in the case of social media users dropping the West or East Village article, it all depends on what long-time residents will continue to call it, experts said.

“I don’t know if social media, as dispersed and atomized as it is, has the power to change these names that have been in the imagination for over 50 years, in some cases,” Tuttle said. “I don’t know if social media can completely undo that.”

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